By Lynne Bermel, Ottawa Sun
Ken Parker couldn't stop smiling.
No sooner had Tara Quinn-Smith, Canadian Half Marathon record holder, confirmed that she was going to race his Emilie's 5K Run than Lioudmila Kortchaguina, 2009 Canadian women's marathon champion, was in as well.
"As a race director, you're always looking for a race at the front. Now we've got one," said Parker, after meeting with Kortchanguina's husband last Friday.
One of only a handful of women's-only races in North America, Parker started Emilie's Run three years ago "to provide an opportunity for competitive women to lead a race and to offer women of all abilities a chance to come together and celebrate women's running on a fast, flat course."
He named it after Mondor, one of Canada's promising Olympic athletes who trained with Parker's group before she was killed in a car accident in September 2006.
Toronto's Nicole Stevenson, who isn't racing this year, has dominated the race since it started. She won in 2006 and 2008 and finished second in 2007.
Her course record of 16:29 has been around since 2006 but Parker thinks it's in jeapordy this year.
"Tara has run 30 seconds faster for 5K (15:58) and she's showed that she has the leg speed last weekend," Parker said of Quinn-Smith who posted the best time among Canadians in finishing sixth overall in the Ottawa Race Weekend 10k in time of 33:39.
Parker also believes that while Kortchaguina is predominately a marathoner (she's won four of the five marathons she's run in Ottawa since her first appearance in 2002), she'll give Quinn-Smith a run for the $1000 that's up for grabs for the winner.
"It's a classic race of speed versus strength. You can bet if Lioudmila is making the trip to Ottawa, she's here to win. If she can run a 2:32 marathon, she can put in a fast 5k."
"We're also expecting some fast women who train under Ken Royds in Toronto. It should be the most competitive field in the race's history," Parker said of the race that starts and finishes at the Canada Aviation Museum on June 20.
"But as much as it's about runners at the front end, it's for the beginner and grassroots runner. It's really about growing women's running - getting women interested in and excited about the sport.”
Parker has seen that growth first-hand over the last forty years.
He started the Avon and Bonne Bell women's races in Ottawa in the mid-70s when women running through the streets were a rarity.
"I've heard stories about women runners in New York being stopped by police asking them if they were running away from something."
"And the first all-women's race in New York back in 1972 had playboy bunnies at the finish line to generate publicity."
"It’s hard to believe that at the first Ottawa marathon in 1975, only three of the 146 runners were women," said Parker. "These days, women often make up 50% of the field, if not more."
"We've come along way."
"You know what? I think it's empowering for women to have opportunities to race in events like Emilie's Run. I've wanted to do this race for while but for some reason or another, it didn't work out."
"I raced on the same team with Emilie a few years ago. She was a talented, inspiring runner."
Tara Quinn-Smith in the 2009 MDS Nordion 10K in Ottawa May 23rd. Photo: RunnersWeb.com.